Who runs this place? Who has real power and influence in New Zealand? These difficult, but important, social-political questions are tackled in a major feature in the latest issue of The Listener - see: The Influentials. Of the dozen or so articles, one of the most important is Rebecca Macfie and Ruth Laugesen's Fixers, lobbyists and networkers. 'People who have mastered the art of lobbying, fixing, and bringing others together' are said to include Rod Drury, Philippa Howden-Chapman, David Farrar, Doug Martin, Wayne Eagleson, Mark Unsworth, Margaret Bazley, Jane Sweeney, Fran Wilde, and Traci Houpapa. These are the people working behind the scenes with government and corporate interests.

If the list is accurate, then we're seeing a picture of an elite that is increasingly female - 5 of the 11 examples are women. In her profile of lobbyist Jane Sweeney, author Macfie even points to the fact that she 'is the doyenne of the small cadre of PR women with serious clout, among them Deborah Pead (Pead PR), Tracey Bridges (Senate) and Jane Vesty (Sweeney Vesty)'. So at the time of the 120th annual celebration of Suffrage Day, is this a sign that women are now gaining true equality? (More on this later)

Amongst the Influentials in Politics, Jane Clifton cites the usual crowd in government at the moment, but makes the argument that 'the most influential person in politics can still be the humble voter', suggesting that New Zealanders as a whole run their own country. Her evidence is that the Labour Party rank and file 'seized back control of the party with last year's fiercely contested leadership election rule changes' which has led to the ascendancy of David Cunliffe, who Clifton cites as a key agenda-setter. Honourable mentions also go out to Steven Joyce, Gerry Brownlee, Nick Smith, Amy Adams, Simon Bridges, Judith Collins, Winston Peters, and Russel Norman.

In his profile of the Influential Business movers, Pattrick Smellie paints a picture of a relatively new liberal elite. Gone is the old style conservative and reactionary boys club, and in comes a more modern ruling class in which 'high-tech innovator and millionaire' Selwyn Pellett is a 'friend of the Labour Party' and 'global businessman' Phillip Mills is an 'environmental activist'. Smellie makes the interesting point that, 'Come a change of government, Mills will be the kind of business voice a centre-left government with a green-tinged agenda will look to not only for support but also for credibility. In a sense, that makes Mills to the Green Party what Selwyn Pellett is to Labour'. Other examples of the new elite are Graeme Wheeler, Jacki Johnson, Kerry Prendergast, Mike Pohio, and Rob Jager.

For those interested in exploring the nature of influence in New Zealand further, the Listener used to publish its anatomy of power annually until 2009, and you can see my in-depth reviews of their power lists here: Who runs New Zealand in 2009?, Who runs New Zealand in 2008?, and Who runs New Zealand in 2007? Similarly, see my examinations of Metro magazine's past features: Who runs New Zealand - in Auckland and The Auckland 'influentials'.

The power of Nick Smith and government departments

Constitutionally, one of the countervailing powers to the Government of the day is the existence of a public service that speaks truth to power, providing free and frank advice in specialist areas. But the latest saga over the Department of Conservation's role in the approval of the Ruataniwha Dam suggests that the balance of power is shifting. The best critical coverage of the issue comes from Gordon Campbell, who argued yesterday that the dam issue was important for understanding the health of the government bureaucracy: 'The neutrality of public servants - and their ability to fulfill their statutory obligations - are coming under increasing attack from Ministers and their staff. Senior managers see which way the wind is blowing from the Beehive, and jump to comply, or else. DOC has been bullied, and told that water quality is none of its core business' - see: On Nick Smith's latest steps to undermine river quality. And today, he reiterates this based on the latest news: 'In all its grisly detail, the extent to which DOC has abandoned its statutory duties could be heard in last night's Checkpoint interview between Johnson and RNZ presenter Mary Wilson - in which Johnson introduced a new wrinkle to the story. In effect, Johnson wrote off the main river affected as being of such little consequence as to not merit a submission from DOC on its likely fate if the dam should proceed. It is an incredible interview. So there we have it. Minister leans on department. Department caves in. Fate of river gets written off by our conservation guardian as being of little consequence. Minister tells Parliament he knew nothing, NOTHING. Move on, nothing to see here' - see: On the Nick Smith saga, and the America's Cup.

For similar views from interest groups, see Radio NZ's DoC losing nerve, says Forest and Bird. Another Radio NZ item on the Ruataniwha Dam issue is also useful for illustrating the changing nature of power in New Zealand - see: Two tribes with different dam priorities. Increasingly, neo-tribal iwi corporations are playing a key role in economic and resource development (and conflicts).

But if power is dwindling in the public service, it doesn't appear that there is a lack of resources in the upper echelons of government departments - see Hamish Rutherford's State bosses pocket large salary rises. Senior paypackets are inflating fast, with many public servant CEOs on more than $500,000. Often the huge pay is being given to under-performing or heavily criticised officials - the most prominent being highlighted in Glenn Conway's report, Tony Marryatt's 'divisive culture'.

Also on the issue of the public sector and power, Labour MP Clare Curran has a very good blogpost entitled The right to know: a blog expóse on the erosion of our democracy in which she highlights an excellent new website the public can use for making and viewing information requests: FYI.org.nz
Suffrage Day

What about gender power and relations in New Zealand? Yesterday New Zealand celebrated 120 years of women's suffrage. Two government departments published an interesting infographic snapshot of Women's achievements in the 120 years since women's suffrage,while John Key tweeted a chart showing that New Zealand has 'The Lowest Gender Wage Gap in the Developed World'. However, a different picture was painted by Newswire's article, Women still chasing equality, 120 years on. For a truly informative report about the state and history of gender power in New Zealand, see Megan Cook Te Ara blogpost, 120 years of women's suffrage. And the University of Canterbury's Kate Pickles published an excellent history of how the vote was won - see: Colonial context behind suffrage.

Also on Suffrage Day, the Timaru Herald and Manawatu Standard published a very controversial cartoon - see TV3/RadioLive's Timaru Herald criticised for cartoon. Having tweeted the cartoon myself, there was much controversy on Twitter, which Cameron Slater's covers in his blogpost, Lefties enraged about a tweet. See also, Carrie Stoddart's blogpost, That cartoon.

Perhaps the most telling item on the place of women in New Zealand society is the Herald's Landmark gender pay equality ruling appealed. Professional caregivers - mostly women - are still being paid the minimum wage of $13.75 an hour.

Power in the America's Cup

Is it a sport or a business? With much of the country in a nationalist fervour over Emirates Team New Zealand, John Drinnan discusses some interesting issues regarding the nature of the yachting competition - see: BlackHeart days long gone. (In this column Drinnan also points to the latest in spin doctor news).

Political debates are reigniting over government financial support for future yachting competitions. Toby Manhire is unsure if we'll see large subsidies for the sport/business: 'While it's hard to imagine the Government refusing to stump up for the 2017 defence and event, the appearance of bankrolling a billionaire pastime remains very real, especially at a time of austerity, when "nice to haves" are eschewed, theatres are closing and grassroot sports face dwindling funding from the unholy pokie temples' - see: All cheers at Balmoral when our boat comes in. See also, Colin Espiner's Should we fund America's Cup?.

Leftwing blogger Steven Cowan has some things to say about power in New Zealand society. Today he says, 'If you want irrefutable proof of just how enmeshed the New Zealand media is with the rich and powerful in this country, then the America's Cup is it'. He contrasts this with the lack of coverage of poverty - see: Lapdog media. So, who will keep a watch on the power of the media? Unfortunately, Russell Brown has blogged to say that his Media3 programme is no longer - see: Moving on. And if you want to know more about the new powerful head of Radio New Zealand, see David Cohen's Listener feature, Paul Thompson: radio head.

Local government elections and power

Voting starts today in many local government elections and, as usual, we're all being urged to vote. The latest Listener's editorial says that 'ever-growing voter abstinence in New Zealand... undermines the very integrity of the democratic system on which our system of governance is based' - see: No more butts. See also, Mai Chen's Auckland's future needs your vote. But if the contests and their integrity are so important then why, asks Brian Rudman, are some councils such as Auckland, using dodgy and anti-democratic voting ballot methods? - see: Juggling the names easier than pulling cow from hat.
Power in the Labour Party

Configurations of power are quickly changing within Labour. Chris Trotter positively evaluates Cunliffe's changes of personnel in Parliament, looking at who is being rewarded and punished - see: Hail To The Chief! Reviewing David Cunliffe's First Moves. See also Trotter's newspaper column, Red Wedding as Labour MPs restate vows to party. Danyl Mclauchlan also has an interesting idea on just how crafty the new leader might be - see: Conspiracy theory of the day.

There's some controversy about the suggestion that Cunliffe is weeding out his opponents from positions of power in his Leaders Office - see Barry Soper's Cunliffe asks staff where their loyalties lie. But one labour law specialist says no rules are necessarily being broken - see Corazon Miller's Cunliffe's staff decisions a matter of judgement, not law.

Last night, Cunliffe appeared on a Daily Blog Skype interview. A review of this is published on The Standard - see: Beyond the MSM? You Bet!. Also on the Daily Blog, Stuart Nash -ex-MP and ex-advisor to David Shearer - has blogged his strategic advice for the new leader - see: Cunliffe's Strategy.

With blogs becoming more influential, are politicians using them more? Academic and blogger Geoffrey Miller thinks so - see his blogpost, Politicians on social media (including Wayne Mapp at The Standard).

How much power and influence do the churches have in society and politics? Too much, perhaps, according to Brian Edwards, who has blogged: The Speaker's Prayer - Time to get rid of this archaic and offensive mumbo jumbo. But perhaps the churches would have more moral authority if they took their cue of Justin Duckworth - a very modern Anglican Bishop, rather than an old-style religious elite - who is reportedly looking to 'cut his own salary to help fund a "living wage" for cleaners, caregivers and other low-paid workers in Anglican churches and social agencies' - see Simon Collins' Bishop challenges high-income earners.

Finally, for photographic evidence of the whispering campaign going on amongst rivals to David Cunliffe in the Labour Party, see The Listener's image of Shane Jones and Grant Robertson. You can submit your own photo caption.